Match-fixing, lately the most discussed sports-related issue, finally caught the attention of the Dutch government after scandals in Finnish, German and Italian football. On 5 June, the Dutch Minister of Sports announced that an inquiry will be held to look into match-fixing in the Netherlands. Although different definitions of match-fixing exist, the Council of Europe stated it as follows. “The manipulation of sports results (or: match-fixing) covers the arrangement on an irregular alteration of the course or the result of a sporting competition or any of its particular events (e.g. matches, races…) in order to obtain financial advantage, for oneself or for other, and remove all or part of the uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition.”
Regarding this financial advantage, a distinction should be made between betting cases and non-betting cases. Betting cases involve fixing competitions with the primary aim of achieving an economic gain indirectly from sport through betting activity. Studies suggest that most cases are betting related and that the majority of cases occur in football (70%), although cricket and tennis are prone to match-fixing as well. In recent years, the number of betting cases has significantly increased, which is for a large part due to the increase of the online gambling offer. It is just as easy to place a bet on the first yellow card in a certain match in the German second league on a Chinese betting website as it is to buy a book on Amazon. Match-fixing seems to be more prevalent where it does not affect the final outcome of a competition. Bets can be placed on things like the first corner, the first yellow card and the number of goals.
Match-fixing is frequently linked to organised crime that uses sports betting for money laundering and other illegal activities. In order to combat the problem, different actors in the betting and sports world have created monitoring systems that detect suspicious betting patterns. However, screening systems may only detect a part of the problem as they can only find some types of irregular betting cases and many do occur undetected. In addition to the initiatives adopted by betting and sporting associations, national and European organizations have picked up the issue as well. This is of the utmost importance as private organisations do not have the competencies or resources to take action against illegal activities by international criminal networks. There needs to be coordination and close cooperation between sport organisations, betting operators and, most importantly, law enforcement agencies.
The first steps have been taken. Match-fixing is high up the various agendas. Last week it was announced that the Council of Europe will start negotiations on a new European Convention against the manipulation of sports results and notably match-fixing. It is expected that a convention can be ready for the first countries to sign up in about two years’ time. Although a European Convention alone will not suffice to tackle a problem that exists on other continents as well, it is an important first step. The Dutch government would do well to actively participate in the international initiatives.